Bahrain shuts out UN torture probe

UN mission to assess the country's progress in eliminating torture has been cancelled by authorities, who say investigation would disrupt national dialogue. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

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A United Nations mission to Bahrain to assess the country's progress in eliminating torture has been unilaterally "cancelled" by authorities in Manama, the organisation's special rapporteur for torture has said.

Bahrain's state news agency reported earlier this week that Juan Méndez, the UN's special rapporteur for torture, had "put off his visit" scheduled for early May following a letter from Dr Salah bin Ali Abdulrahman, Bahrain's human rights affairs minister. The letter outlined "reasons for the request to postpone the visit", the agency said.

However, Mr Méndez said on Wednesday there was no choice in the matter, calling the refusal to play host to his visit "a unilateral decision by the [Bahraini] authorities".

"This is the second time that my visit has been postponed, at very short notice. It is effectively a cancellation, as no alternative dates were proposed, nor is there a future road map to discuss," Mr Méndez added.

Mr Méndez was scheduled to be in Bahrain May 8-15 to evaluate progress on eliminating torture and mistreatment in the country's criminal justice system.

In 2011, a government-commissioned report, called the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, found evidence of torture and other violations committed by the country's security forces during a pro-reform uprising that year.

According to Mr Méndez, the letter from Mr Abdulrahman cited concerns that his visit could disrupt the talks among all of Bahrain's political groups aimed at ending a long-running political stalemate. But, he noted, "there will never be a perfect time for my visit, something that is true for any country that I may visit".

Bahraini human rights groups said they were disappointed that Mr Méndez would not be arriving in Manama as expected.

"We have been arranging this visit for more than a year," said Mohamed Al Tajer, a human rights lawyer and head of the legal team at the Bahrain Rehabilitation Against Violence Organization, a rights group.

"We as human rights defenders condemn this move. The situation is deteriorating … and we are losing any faith."

Abdulla Saad Al Howaihi, a delegate to the so-called National Dialogue and chairman of the executive committee of the National Unity Assembly, a bloc allied with the government, said he thought previous reports on human rights had a "negative impact" on the dialogue. Nonetheless, he said, the fact-finding mission by the UN special rapporteur should not be cancelled altogether.

"We believe that this should be done at some time, because it's important for Bahrain to develop its human rights."

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